Teach Without Prejudice

Over the past five years, I have taught at many schools, colleges and institutes. Some have been well known, others start-ups, and still more have been extremely modest places. I have been advised by many people to ‘choose’ the places I teach at, and organisations I associate with, CAREFULLY! Why? Because if I associate with ‘lesser’ institutions, the ‘good’ ones will not want to have me!

THIS, I find preposterous. While I realise that most of this advice comes from well-meaning people, from a place of genuine care and concern; I REFUSE to ‘select’ the places I teach at on any ‘basis’. I reject the notion of ‘strategising’ a career of an Educator. Teachers MUST go where they are needed – no matter the size, stature, status of the organisation. At least that is what I firmly believe. If all good educators ran along to teach at the ‘best’ places, who’d be left to teach elsewhere?

Teaching for me is about trying to reach out to the most number of students. A vital part of that pursuit is to interact with students through a multitude of engagements. This automatically means that instead of being permanently tied down to one institute, I give myself the freedom of ‘visiting’ several institutions, engaging in various ways be it workshops, long-term programs, with entire batches of students, with individuals through one-on-one classes, and even through online teaching. This vast spread of teaching-vehicles allows me to have students who represent a wide range of age, social standing, geography, demography, and inclinations. And that is what keeps my teaching fresh, invigorated, and of course, allows me to reach more people.

Knowledge can only grow when shared. And when you share, you don’t discriminate. If indeed there are people or organisations or schools or colleges that feel I am not to be ‘touched’ because of my prior or ongoing associations with any individual/institute, that’s just too bad for them!

“Education is the foundation upon which we build our future”, and the future belongs, to EVERYONE.

Interpreting Art – Individual Perception

Many people have been asking me what I am teaching in my classes at the ARCH College of Design. While I have been engaged there to take sessions on Business & Professional Communication; the idea really is to inculcate within the students of their various streams of study – Jewelry, Fashion, Interior and Graphic Design, a sense of Deep & Individual Interpretation, and Expression. This, I have tried to accomplish through a module I’ve designed that organically journeys students across a logical progression:

  1. Self – Analysis (looking inward, introspection)
  2. Writing About THEMSELVES
  3. Examining the Environment (social, political landscape)
  4. Developing a Perception & Point of View on Extraneous Facets of Life
  5. Organizing their Perceptions Logically
  6. Writing/Communicating these Opinions in a Convincing, Engaging manner

Ultimately taking them to a stage where, the hope is, having figured out themselves and happenings/phenomena around them, that they are READY to start Interpreting Art/Design/Creation/Objects

Interpreting a piece of Design/Art is an acquired skill. One may be the greatest Creator and Visionary (and many of the students here are). The process of creation however doesn’t often reveal its inspirations very overtly (even to the Artist or the Creator). A Fashion Designer may base his/her Collection on certain elements/inspirations but by the time the final product emerges, the genesis gets lost in translation. That’s because the Artist or Creator is not concerned with these things. To him/her, it is the Process-Of-Creation that is enjoyable.

However, in today’s competitive world, in order to proliferate those creations in an impacting manner, where the world would take notice and one’s designs would break-the-clutter, the Design ALONE isn’t enough. There MUST be a story to accompany the design. It is THIS Story that I am after. This genesis that I am trying to get the students at ARCH to search for, first in other’s creations, and ultimately in their own, and then be able to ARTICULATE that Story in a way that tells a convincing tale to a viewer/admirer/potential buyer.

Design Communication then, forms the bedrock of my engagement at ARCH. And to this end, I am glad that only yesterday, when I first flirted with the idea of getting the students to Interpret some pieces of Art I shared in class, that the exercise solicited healthy participation, and more importantly, evoked educated, individual, unguarded, and thoroughly unique stories from students who proudly communicated an individual perception of a common piece of art.

I suspect we’re on to something great 🙂

Liberty

I left in haste

That hateful place

Decades, chased

A taste, for distaste

Talents, gone waste

Negative space

A bitter paste

Nothing aced

Barely braced

Poison-laced

Hauntingly traced

Outpaced

A fallacy showcased

Now, finally, emplaced

A freedom, chaste!

That Funny Feeling…

Like Coffee-Mug rings at the table

Wishing never to break the pattern

Without explanation, beyond logic, it happenes…

That funny feeling presented itself to me, unannounced, unplanned for, uninhibited, with little warning, for a third time, some fifteen years ago. If you feel you have a choice, you probably DO. If you are compelled to act, then you KNOW. The magnetic pull of the feeling is undeniable. It jostles for every ounce of your attention, vying for every second of each minute.

You know how, when you turn on the shower in winter-time, and the water from the water-heater usurps the ‘cold’ portion of your tap? The feeling is like that. All consuming. You know how when you need to write an exam that you’re not prepared for and your mind is clogged with no other thoughts? The feeling is like that. Omnipresent. You know how, at the first hint of monsoon rain, the peacocks don’t stop dancing? The feeling is like that. All pervasive.

A delectable feast with contrasting flavors, rich textures, layered nuance and though surprising, challenging even in the beginning, ultimately, completely, absolutely satisfying. Satiating a soul that you realize later, hungered for something that wasn’t quite known, wasn’t very clear, wasn’t  clearly defined.

That funny feeling came to me some fifteen years ago, and hasn’t left me, even since 🙂

Embracing The Educator In Me!

That I always wanted to teach, and that I have been teaching for the past five years, is known to many people. However, there is a certain evolution that has come about in my own perception of education, my approach to teaching, and the significance and importance it holds in my life.

See initially when I moved back to Jaipur, my ideal plan was to continue being a Writer (my primary vocation – ghost writing, content development etc), and teach on-the-side as and when time and opportunity permitted. I was very clear that I would teach in the allied areas of communication & writing, and what is commonly known as ‘personality development’. I got lucky and despite having no formal academic background or experience in teaching, I met friends, colleagues and mentors who gave me many platforms to teach.

However, what I thought would be a ‘thing-to-the-side’ has assumed increasing importance in my life. Teaching now, happily consumes a majority of my day. And there are a couple of reasons I steered clear of this in the beginning, and have embraced it completely, now.

I never believed in ‘tuition’ classes – a rage and I suppose, a prerequisite in India (given our skewed education system). So I always shied away from seeing students at home for fear of being labeled ‘tuition teacher’. No offense meant to the thousands who dedicate themselves to teaching what schools ought to; personally, I was also sure I did not want to teach any set school curriculum or ‘prepare’ students for any standardized tests/exams. A small group of parents and students seem to have seen merit in what I’ve been trying to do – impart life-long skills and ‘prepare’ people for LIFE rather than their immediate exams – and ‘risked’ me 🙂

Ever since, that number has grown significantly. And so, I have now made my peace with seeing students at home – because I am NOT teaching them English, or Grammar, or Vocabulary – rather how to find themselves, and express themselves!

Two other reasons I was a touch reluctant to let teaching become my happy preoccupation – less pay and  mental fatigue. Both my presumptions,  I am happy to report, have been proved wrong! That if one associates with quality institutes, organizations and people, and stands one’s ground in terms of charges/fee for personal one-on-one lessons; one can make a respectable living doing this (which I always doubted). And that after half a decade of teaching versions of the same broader program, because each time I interact with a new set of students or with an individual, my experience of teaching and sharing the same material is completely renewed, with new examples, new experiences, varied thoughts – that has alleviated my fear of being ‘bored’ and seeming repetitive to myself.

I am ecstatic that Jaipur seems to be getting to know me, and has begun to recognize that there is a life for students beyond their prescribed texts at school. That life isn’t limited to 100% marks. That life ought to be about self-expression and the quest to find oneself. And that is why, I find myself teaching more and more. And I am loving it!

That I have begun to get inquiries from out of Jaipur that invariably translate into online/skype/whatsapp lessons is just the icing on the cake. Be it through a workshop, a home lesson, or an online session; it is my endeavor to reach as many keen learners (age being irrelevant) as possible, now that I have finally Embraced The Educator In Me 🙂

Divorce From Reality!

If you were to have a negative, omnipresent force in your life, it would stunt you. Deplete your energies, exhaust your intellect, thwart your self-worth, negate your very existence. You’d always question yourself, doubt yourself, second-guess your choices, develop unresolved feelings, even grow a pessimistic world view, before eventually turning into the monster at who’s hands you’ve suffered your entire life!

This has happened to my mother and I, and more recently to my wife, at the hands of my own father. Someone who has abused us, ripped us of our esteem, our very core. How? That is too painful, too disturbing, just too much to put down. Suffice it to say that when a family decides to LEAVE their ‘patriarch’ after four decades, the circumstances that have led to this monumental event are of utmost gravity.

The reality of our lives as we have known it for these imprisoned and seemingly unending years, is about to change. And the one person, aside from my mother, whom we all have to thank for this, is my 14 month old daughter Krisha.

A new life force awakens you. You are compelled to take a long hard look at your ‘situation’. Your priorities metamorphose. You may have yearned freedom from captivity but it wasn’t until now that you realized it is an ABSOLUTE, non-negotiable essential. To give this beautiful, innocent, vivacious, NEW life, a NORMAL life, a GREAT life, you move…

As many of you know, we have been in the process of moving out for the past few days, hence no new posts since a while. I felt however, that I’d be remiss not to at least share briefly, the reasons for us moving within the same city despite owning our own home and now going to a rented premises, since naturally the ‘move’ has solicited justifiably confounded questions in many people. So THIS IS IT!

It is, in every sense of the phrase, a Divorce From Reality. A brutal reality. A ghastly reality that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemies. Despite all the lies that may be proliferated to the contrary, and against all odds, for better or for worse, we are OUT! My mum, my wife, my daughter, and our three pets…. I hope that you all pray for us. Give us strength. Keep us in your thoughts. And very soon, we will be united in merry cheer. Because life ought to be a celebration, and because in this scenario, DIVORCE is the BEST step FORWARD 🙂

Education’s Planned Murder!

Life is a series of unexpected events, mostly out of our control. Similarly, love is an instinctive, indefinable emotion that strikes us, unannounced. How and why then, can learning, and teaching, NOT be spontaneous?

As a teacher and educator, I’m certain I’ll ruffle a good few feathers with this post. But then my own education has always compelled me to speak my mind. I’d joined a school briefly as a teacher in Bombay. Then I joined a school back home in Jaipur as well. Both those experiences, maybe not personally but certainly through my interaction and observation of the ‘modern’ schooling system, the teachers, and the students, left me a little disillusioned. Why? Because a vast majority of a teacher’s time, effort and energy seems to be devoted to obsessive planning, pre-planning and administrative work – leaving the educator little or no will,  excitement, enthusiasm, to actually TEACH, and god forbid, INSPIRE any kind of DISCOVERY

Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly. These are the different categories of Lesson Plans that teachers are required to submit to the school administration, in ADVANCE! Depending on the board and the school, these lesson plans need to be detailed to the minutest possible degree, including for instance, what ‘examples’ a teacher will use in class to illustrate a specific point of a particular lesson! I appreciate the need and merit in planning, I really do. But the way we were taught at school was a whole lot more on-the-fly. And I mean that in the most positive sense possible. No two students are alike. No two teachers are alike. The way a students responds to a particular teacher, to an example, to stimuli, to a methodology of teaching – varies vastly. There are too many dynamic variables for this to be standardized. Besides, where’s the element of surprise, or fun, or creativity then? If our students are taught like they’re characters in a circus, then not only will the teacher be perceived as the proverbial ‘ring master’, the subject too will be despised, forever!

This profuse planning, to my mind, is killing the very essence and joy of invention, self-discovery, visceral education. We are, as a result, creating clones. An army of dull, brainwashed robots that might go on to secure decently paying jobs – but will have little else to contribute, to society, and more importantly, to themselves and to their own lives.

Individuality, peculiarity, specialty, uniqueness, evolution, realization, actualization – these are concepts that I’m afraid we are KILLING at the very onset of a child’s educational experience. While schools proclaim ‘experiential’ and ‘experimental’ learning in their large banners and social media brochures; what they offer, by and large, is a thoroughly mundane, thought-thwarting curriculum where both teacher and student are merely going through the motions, waiting anxiously for that school bell to sound, so they can escape the drudgery that the otherwise exciting, invigorating, school-day has become.

 Are we going to give our young generations to come this thoughtless a sense of self?

 

The Underdog!

I understood the meaning of the word ‘underdog’ at a very young age. See when I joined the Doon School, like most all boarding schools, each student had to fight hard to create a niche for himself. If you didn’t you fell by the wayside, relegated to mediocrity, anonymity – the permanent status of ‘underdog’. What added to my woes was that in the grand scheme of history, I belonged to one of 5 – Oberoi House. Now unlike the other 4 houses – Tata, Kashmir, Jaipur and Hyderabad, Oberoi was a much newer entrant. Established decades after the school came into being, to fill the strictly ‘numbers’ need for more accommodation. So unlike the other BIG 4, it had no pedigree to speak of. Shunned as an outcast, unwanted, the boys of this house had an even tougher task ahead of themselves. To make a mark as individuals while also shouldering the responsibility of building a name for this ‘orphan’ Oberoi House.

But it wasn’t until a few years ago, when my house, at long last, hit a milestone – its 25th Anniversary, that I actually articulated the meaning of this word Underdog. The committee responsible for the quarter century celebrations got in touch with me and asked me to contribute a piece for the 25th Year Publication of the Oberoi House. That’s when I got thinking. What could I say about Oberoi House that was genuinely unique. And it hit me. It had to be its story as the eternal underdog. I realized while writing the article how much the boys, its masters and the house had together endured before emerging triumphant. A tough road indeed. But that’s how it often is for the underdog.

So I thought I’d like to leave you with the article I submitted to the celebratory publication. I called it…

‘ROUGE NATION – The Birth Of A New House’

When I joined Doon in 1992, I was sent straight to ‘main house’. For the uninitiated, this meant I would not have my 1 vital year of ‘gestation’ in the Doon School induction process. Because you see, typically one is first sent to one of 2 ‘holding houses’; a ‘womb-like’ setting where there are no seniors to bother you, nor the  pressures of inculcating instant feelings of voluntary martyrdom for your ‘main house’! In political terms, going to main-house ‘directly’ was like the equivalent of becoming part of the Union Cabinet, having skipped the ‘State’ altogether; thrust right into the murky deep end – harsher, more competitive, less forgiving.. And to make matters worse, perhaps because I didn’t have any ‘pedigree’ to speak of (read Dosco lineage, i.e., I wasn’t the ‘baba’ of a Dosco brother, father, or grandfather), I was sent to Oberoi House – casually described to me as the ‘new’ main house. There I was, some 1100 kms from home in Jaipur, one of a handful who’d ever been to this school from that city, entering, the ‘new’ main house! So naive was I, that I actually found it rather incongruous I wasn’t being put into Jaipur house! Of course that ‘sound’ logic of mine would beg the question – did I think Doon only had students from Hyderabad, Kashmir, Jaipur and a place called Tata? In my own defense, a scared, home-sick boarding school entrant is allowed a few momentary lapses…

Anyway.. I realized rather quickly, that ‘new’ main house was but a polite euphemism. One that meant anything from rank-outsider, to ‘sidey’, to downright unwanted. You see Oberoi House had only just come into existence a few years earlier. Until that point, it had been the famed quartet – Jaipur, Hyderabad, Kashmir and Tata. Now these were the ‘real’ houses. They had history & pedigree. They evoked nostalgia. They had produced generations of Doon boys. They were, patrimonies..

And now, suddenly, like an unwanted, unanticipated, unforeseen, un-required ‘mistake’, was Oberoi House! It was like that new, poor, uncultured colony that the empire had invaded; except everyone wondered why! Unsurprisingly then, it was revealed to me by my ‘new’ mates in this ‘new’ house; that no one from the other houses wanted to move here. Some had inheritances to care for, to uphold the names of their families and their associations with their respective houses, others had made steady friends and settled into full-lives in one of the house-quartet, and others still were just very, very skeptical. I dare say then, that the only students willing to leave their beloved houses and call Oberoi their new home, were driven less by guilt and a sense of abiding school-spirit; but more because they sought fresh starts and new identities.

I, on the other hand, had been handed my one and only start at Doon. It was to be at the Oberoi House. And I’d better have made it work! So I set about the process of  pursuing a ‘character’ for myself. Boarding School is a tough place. Its like this vast theatre with hundreds of actors. The ones who grab (read create) alluring personas for themselves, last. The others just fall by the wayside. They may as well have remained in the comfortable confines of their tangible homes and intangible parental love. I would work relentlessly to ‘distinguish’ myself from the pack. What could I do to make myself stand-out. Fortunately for me, I sang. And not just ‘Another Brick In The Wall’; I’d started training in Hindustani Classical Vocal since I was 6 years old. 6 years hence having joined Doon, that ought to have come to my rescue. Mind you, even that was far from the ‘desired’ or ‘approved’ persona – but it was at least, a unique, peculiar one. And that was more than what one could bargain for at the time.

So music happened. To use a rather rudimentary term thrown about on campus, I quickly established myself as a ‘musician’. Next up was the task of adding one more arrow to my persona-quiver. But it had to be something ‘cooler’; nothing too Indian for God’s sake. And it came to me. A Doon staple. One that would immediately get me out of my classical-shackles and unleash me as an ‘acceptable’ lad – Squash. I consciously molded my childhood Badminton training into Squash and there I was, selected, under-14, on the School Squash Team. In my head, my ‘character’ had been built. And in all fairness, it had been indeed.

But before you misconstrue this article as some self-elevating Bible for how to survive boarding school; let me quickly put it in perspective. In seeking this ‘new’ character for myself, I realized that it was the new house, my house, Oberoi House, that had been my biggest subconscious support and motivator. And I realized that the house had played that role not just for me, but for most of my peers. You see, this was a house that was desperately grappling with a severe existential crisis. So extreme was the negative pre-disposition towards Oberoi house that one constantly heard it mocked. Zero house, Flying Butter Chicken House (for the beautiful in-flight Swan emblem that my friend and founding O house stud Koustuv Goswami created)! It was all a bit much. But it was out of that travesty that the house and its boys joined hands and decided to fight and find our place. Each boy on his own, and collectively, as a band of brothers who would prove to the entire school that Oberoi was here to stay – legitimate, justified, talented, relevant, important.

Little by little our triumphs came. Chief among those triumphs was being blessed with some remarkable Masters who took charge of our house. Mr.Neeraj Bedhotiya, who was our firm but compassionate general, a real supporter of underdogs – and what better than a new house with a bunch of alleged misfits to guide, shape, mold, and believe in enough to make us into winners. Our victories started coming. Soccer, hockey, cricket, music – from the assumed number 5 (last) position, we began steadfastly climbing the ladder. Hell, we even produced a School Captain!

The narrative, or as news channels love to say, the rhetoric was slowly, reluctantly, but undeniably changing right in front of our eyes. The special pleasure of winning when you’re least expected to is really the sweetest form of revenge. And that’s what Oberoi was starting to do. In the 6 years I was at Doon, we’d already gone from somewhat ‘ashamed’ to mighty ‘proud’ of being the first few batches of Oberoi House. We had all come together, dreamt, fought insurmountable odds, and built a country of our own. One that could now stand tall amidst the quartet. One that was a force to reckon with. One that may have been the new kid on the block, but it was a darn strong kid. And one that was, no Rogue Nation!

Prologue Encore!

So we did our 1st 6 day Fiction Short Story Writing Workshop at the lovely TOSS (The Open Space Society) a couple of weeks earlier. I really enjoyed teaching the workshop, and by all accounts, my students learned and enjoyed as well.

I’m delighted to share that we’re back with an encore. The second batch begins the moment I’m back from the World Book Fair in Delhi, on the 15th of this month..

Until then, I leave you with this wonderful moments-video of the 1st Prologue Workshop, made by the lovely Hitesh & Shilpi, owners and dreamers of the fully realized creative vision that is TOSS. ENJOY 🙂

Instant Education, Instant Results!

Was a time when education meant learning by observation. By a process of automatic osmosis. By simply being around, and interacting with teachers who weren’t just experts of their respective subjects, but also, were individuals who had amassed a certain worldly wisdom, and at least one ‘x’ factor skill, that one imbibed, by default. That may have been a math teacher’s love of cricket, an economics teacher’s dressing sense, or a headmaster’s way of talking.

I share this background because I find today, too often, that young parents, inundated perhaps by a world of ‘instant gratification’, expect the same of their children’s’ education. Be it at school, or at an external ‘hobby class’; the teaching MUST have a pre-determined PLAN, the lessons be taught quickly and efficiently, and the results be tangible, visible, quantifiable, and relevant in the present to absolute near-future.

I for one find that a bit disconcerting. Why? Because in my view, it has stolen the joy of learning, of discovery, or happy accidents, and of any covert skills that might be developed, that will, in absolute certainty, be invaluable to the pupil years on. But then if we rob our students of any kind of ‘playful’ learning, of a chance to interact with teachers, and of programs where there is no ‘definite goal’ but more abstract exploration of likes, dislikes, passions, sensitization – how do we expect to end up with free-thinking, individualistic young men and women? Are we then not just producing an army of clones, all of whom have been to the same school, been brainwashed into the same morality and definition of ambition?

Was a time when we loved school. Was a time when we loved our teachers. Was a time when we felt like learning…